Original Articles

Public holidays as lieux de mémoire: nation-building and the politics of public memory in South Africa

Published in: Anthropology Southern Africa
Volume 36, issue 1-2, 2013 , pages: 11–21
DOI: 10.1080/02580144.2013.10887020
Author(s): Sabine MarschallCultural and Heritage Tourism Programme, South Africa


This article engages with public holidays in post-apartheid South Africa as lieux de mémoire, ‘sites of memory’ that preserve particular interpretations of historical events and selected heroes for inscription into the collective memory of the nation. It first traces the legislative process that resulted in the official rearrangement of the festive calendar after the 1994 first general elections, exploring the political and pragmatic considerations that influenced the selection of public holidays. Based on a survey conducted in the Durban area, the paper then engages with the public reception of the new festive calendar and the knowledge that people of different demographic backgrounds appear to have about the historical events commemorated. It is argued that the creation of the post-apartheid festive calendar reflects the spirit of the tense transition period with its concern for tolerance, reconciliation and national unity, but that these national holidays have largely failed as memory sites and instruments of nation-building.

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